Ask a Nurse: Cold VS Flu

Ask a Nurse: Cold VS Flu

Pamela is an RN, MSN/Ed.

Pamela is a mother of 6 amazing children ages 11 to 24. She is a nurse educator and loves to travel overseas to work in medical clinics and teach health-related topics to schools and communities. She has been married to her best friend, Steve, for 29 years. She has many different interests including reading, writing (NOT arithmetic!), baking, teaching, and spending time with her family. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband and two youngest daughters.

ACHOO-It’s the Flu! (or maybe it’s a cold?)


How can I tell if it’s the cold or the flu?

You have probably heard this information before, but it really bears repeating!

Signs and Symptoms Influenza Cold
Symptom onset Abrupt Gradual
Fever Usual; lasts 3-4 days Rare
Aches Usual; often severe Slight
Chills Fairly common Uncommon
Fatigue, weakness Usual Sometimes
Sneezing Sometimes Common
Stuffy nose Sometimes Common
Sore throat Sometimes Common
Chest discomfort, cough Common; can be severe Mild to moderate; hacking cough
Headache Common Rare



 Generally, you just feel a whole lot worse with the flu. It hits you harder, faster, and longer.  I have a lot of people ask me, “what about nausea and vomiting, you sometimes get that kind of flu, right?” The answer is no. Many people are under an incorrect assumption that there is a “stomach flu.” It just isn’t so. If you have symptoms that include nausea, vomiting, and fever, you may feel miserable, but you probably have another type of virus. The “flu” is an illness caused by the influenza virus. It mutates yearly, which is a good reason to always get a flu immunization in the fall. Last year’s flu shot most likely won’t help this year’s flu virus.

The flu vaccine comes in two forms, injection and nasal spray. The nasal spray is a live, inactivated form. It is only to be given to healthy individuals between the ages of 2 and 49. You can read more about it here.

The injection is a killed flu virus. You also can’t get the flu from the vaccine, another misconception. The vaccine takes roughly 2 weeks to build immunity in your system. If you were exposed to the virus before this time passes, you may still get the flu. You may also catch the flu due to it mutating so often, but it usually will be a milder illness.

Treatment for both cold and flu is mainly supportive, meaning that you treat the symptoms. You’ll need lots of rest, fluid, and possibly acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fevers and muscle aching. Check with your Doctor to see if you should be seen in the office.  For more information go to , or . Both of these sites have answers to many questions you may come up with.

Have a health-related question that you want answered? Write me at

I will try to answer questions in future articles.

Until next time…stay healthy,